Written and directed by Peter Sullivan
How do you kill a nightmare?
Scold it into submission.
Loudly yelling at a sleeping child to ward off the dream demon haunting her subconscious is just one of the numerous ill-conceived means of defeating the titular fiend of the newest shark-free Syfy creature feature The Sandman.
If attempting to counter-bully a living nightmare into going away once and for all using terse wording doesn’t strike you as being nearly loopy enough, you will also witness a scene in which a nightmare monster that springs forth from the recesses of child’s mind whenever she feels scared, a being comprised entirely of sand, possessing the ability to transform into creeping granules of sand and whirling “Tazmanian Devil” sand clouds, gets temporarily incapacitated when dirt and rocks are dumped on top of it.
You read that last paragraph correctly. A monster made of dirt is buried under more dirt and has to force its way out physically as if it were more man than sand.
And remember: If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again to keep shooting a sand monster with bullets. Who knows? Perhaps the next one will be the one that hits the sweet spot.
Executive produced by Marvel’s very own Stan Lee for Syfy’s “31 Days of Halloween,” The Sandman (not to be confused with the Spider-Man foe of the same name) is like looking in your trick or treat bag and finding a cinematic popcorn ball comprised of bits and pieces of Blumhouse, Stephen King, X-Men, Lights Out, and A Nightmare on Elm Street that nobody bothered to wrap in plastic so now it’s also covered in hair and other crap. Technically it’s still edible, but with reservations.
Haylie Duff stars as Claire. Duff’s only function here is to act concerned at all times. Claire has a douchey boyfriend. Given his rapidly deteriorating mental state, one has to wonder how horribly her relationship with him would have eventually ended even if Madison (Smolik) never entered their lives.
Madison is Claire’s young and newly orphaned niece currently confined to a mental institution suffering from a diagnosis of severe PTSD and night terrors. The girl’s primary doctor insists the easily perturbed pre-teen remain locked up for good for the safety of others, and this is before he even finds out about her psychic powers and the nightmarish Sandman she can conjure forth from her mind when so easily perturbed.
The Sandman itself reminded me of a creature straight out of a Joss Whedon series. I mean that as a compliment. It’s a solid mixture of practical suitmation with some digital sprinklings, the former far more creepy and credible than its computer-generated forms. I liked this movie monster. I only wish it had been put to better use.
The Sandman claimed Madison’s dad as a victim, along with a lot of other people, it would seem. Police, obviously, don’t believe in the boogeyman, so Claire’s brother is suspected of being a serial killer. Your dead brother whom you hadn’t been close to for years is accused of having been a mass murderer, and it takes you how many days to finally do some research about his alleged crimes or bother to ask his clearly traumatized daughter what really happened? All this struck me as pertinent information a sane person should look into before bringing someone into their home, let alone someone just released from a mental institution!
Jigsaw himself, Tobin Bell, shows up as an enigmatic investigator just long enough to make you say “Hey, it’s Tobin Bell! Oh? That’s it? What a complete waste of Tobin Bell.”
Bell’s appearance is less a cameo than a needlessly hurried subplot that starts to take things in an interesting direction only to be completely jettisoned before moving on to the rushed nonsense that constitutes the climax.
I rather wish the whole movie had the momentum of the second half. I’ll take rushed plotting over being merely plodding any day of the week. A dreary lack of energy permeates much of the first hour, further hampered by a monotonous score that did nothing to stop me from feeling sleepy.
Amanda Wyss (“Tina” in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street) turns up briefly as a psychiatrist who thinks she knows how to help Madison deal with her Sandman problem by putting a really dumb twist on the ending of a certain movie I just mentioned.
She, like so many other characters, constantly states how this girl cannot control her powers; yet, on multiple occasions she appears to know exactly what she’s doing. Whether Madison is at the mercy of the supernatural or a potential Carrie more than willing to fatally unleash The Sandman on anyone she doesn’t like is a matter the script struggles with as it constantly switches gears.
And, boy, does this thing constantly switch gears…
- A misunderstood young girl with telekinetic powers unwittingly unleashes a subconscious monster she cannot control, bringing death to everyone around her.
- A malevolent young girl with lethal powers brings death to anyone who upsets her.
- A family member must protect a child with powers from a clandestine agency that seeks to capture and experiment on her.
- All of the above: whenever convenient to the scene.
The young actress cast as Madison is fairly solid, playing both innocent victim and superpowered menace, but she shouldn’t be playing both. You have to pick a lane if you expect the audience to have a vested interest in her well-being one way or another. Would you be cheering for Firestarter to escape the big bad soldiers in the end if she was intentionally incinerating innocent people just doing their job in the first half of the film?
That’s not to say The Sandman is a total bust. Fairly serviceable as far as made-for-television monster movies go these days, I reckon, especially for those with low expectations on a Saturday night. Seeing The Sandman slaughtering armed guards delivers some b-movie monster goodness. Madison using her psychic powers to perform what might be cinema’s first ever suction cup jump scare was a novel moment. There’s a genuinely icky (albeit pointless) delivery room nightmare sequence. The lighting is some of the most atmospheric I’ve seen in a Syfy movie in a long while. That has to count for something.
But, and this is a big but, the absurd, not to mention abrupt, ending only serves to remind you you’re still watching a Syfy movie. If I revealed the means by which this man of sand is ultimately defeated, you’d swear I was joking, as did a co-worker when I explained it or another co-worker who merely closed his eyes and shook his head in a state of…
Zen-like inner laughter?
The Sandman premieres Saturday, October 14th, on Syfy.